Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Squirrel's Eye View: Jang's Plan B?

So now we know more about 2010-era Ardija and based on the evidence of ninety minutes on Saturday afternoon at Vegalta Sendai, things in fact do not really look all that different from 2009-era Ardija. The Squirrels, and indeed the whole of the match, were not assisted by some terrible refereeing and a Sendai team whose game plan seemed to be based on disruptive little fouls in the midfield to prevent any kind of smooth pattern of play, but in the end the contrast with last week's display against Cerezo Osaka was plain. And it wasn't all about the absence from the line-up of Rafael.

The defence with goalkeeper Takashi Kitano - so solid in that first match of the season - suffered major lapses in concentration for the second and third Vegalta goals, when opposition players were left entirely free to score at the far post. It looked like a breakdown in communication or a failure to understand responsibility, but either way it happened on two occasions under similar circumstances. A team which plays the way Sendai do probably won't expect to score that many goals during the course of the season, so to receive two gifts for their opening home match must have been a nice surprise.

Another aspect to the back four's play that was in contrast to the Cerezo game was how rarely Arata Sugiyama and Kazuhiro Murakami got forward on the overlap. One has to assume that this was a conscious tactical decision by coach Jang Wae Ryong, because Vegalta certainly did not use the wings as a key part of their attacking play, but the result was that a dimension to Omiya's play - and an ability to turn the huge number of small midfield battles for possession into Ardija moves - was almost entirely missing. Why bother having different tactics for home and away games?

The midfield functioned... differently. Here we inevitably start to see the results of Rafael's absence, in that his endless energy to link up the midfield and front line is not replicated elsewhere in the squad. The first half was not bad, central midfielders An Yong Hak and Shin Kanazawa performing well in what quickly became a physical encounter and it was noticeable how much Hayato Hashimoto got forward in and around the penalty area. But losing somewhat unluckily at half time, Jang made changes which as it turned out simply weakened the Squirrels' ability to get back into the match.

What were those changes? Tomoya Uchida came on for Kanazawa, meaning that Hashimoto went back into the middle of midfield (where he is never as good as Kanazawa) and the wildly consistent Uchida went on to the left-hand side (where on this occasion he wasn't as good as Hashimoto). Omiya were therefore less competitive when they didn't have the ball, less dangerous when they did. But when Fernandinho, of all players, headed in the third Vegalta goal, the Squirrels responded in an extremely disappointing manner, missing out the midfield altogether and just playing a long ball.

How this could be expected to work with Masahiko Ishikawa - on as a substitute for Yoshihito Fujita - alongside the hardworking but unrewarded Naoki Ishihara is anybody's guess. The referee could have played on until midnight and Omiya wouldn't have got back into the game, the only really promising piece of play in that final quarter of the match coming when Kohei Tokita began a passing movement that actually brought his team-mates into the play as they moved forward, meaning that seven Ardija players were advancing together rather than the normal two.

Jang has to accept responsibility for the defeat, although the amount of backchat by the Omiya players to the referee suggests that they knew that they were handling badly Vegalta's rough tactics in midfield. There was a lack of composure from the senior players, which was very disappointing to see. Rafael's presence in the line-up would no doubt have changed the match a great deal, but this is something that will have to be faced over the coming weeks. And as it turned out, Jang didn't have a Plan B.



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